Innovium Races Ahead Of Broadcom In Data Center Networking Switches – Forbes
In data center design, you can never have too much bandwidth. With racks of computers and storage, networking is the glue that holds it all together. Performance and latency are critical to a high-performance data center. Network connections impact overall data center efficiency by the speed of the connections between compute, memory, and external I/O. The dominant silicon supplier today for data center networking silicon is Broadcom ($AVGO). But Broadcom has a challenger – Innovium. The company recently announced a new product that has advantages over the top network switch chip Broadcom ships today.
Innovium has raised $250 million so far with investments from Greylock Partners, WRVI Capital/Walden Riverwood, Capricorn Investment Group, Redline Capital, Qualcomm Ventures, and S-Cubed Capital. With that extensive funding, the company is releasing its third major switching product in the past three years. Its existing TERALYNX 7 product has over 15 designs in various OEMs and ODM products, including Cisco’s Nexus 3400-S switch. Networking switch operating systems supported include Cisco’s NX-OS and Microsoft’s SONiC switch operating system. The chip is also used by some hyperscalers which have their own network operating systems. A major achievement for a company that has only been in the market for the last two years.
Innovium is launching the TERALYNX 8 chips (there are three different versions) just a few months after industry leader Broadcom released the “Tomahawk 4” StrataXGS family in December of last year. The Tomahawk 4 has 512 lanes of Serial/Deserial (SerDes) connections that run at 25 GHz. Each lane uses a specialized coding technique called PAM-4 with four signals per lane and two bits per signal, which is aggregated into 50 Gb/sec per lane. The total possible bandwidth across the entire Tomahawk chip is 25.6 Tb/sec.
The Innovium TERALYNX 8 uses a faster SerDes that runs at 50 GHz. It then uses PAM-4 data encoding to double the effective data rate of the lanes, requiring only 256 SerDes to achieve the same aggregate 25.6 Tb/sec switching bandwidth as the Tomahawk 4. The fast SerDes is catching up with optical modules where 8 PAM4 SerDes links can support 800G optical modules.
TERALYNX 8 is built on the same architecture as its TERALYNX 7 predecessor but scaled with a new process node and faster SerDes. Using the same architecture simplifies the software migration to the new chip. The company expects there’s another doubling of aggregate bandwidth in the future using the same architecture.
With 256 fast SerDes interfaces and the high-speed switching architecture, the TERALYNX 8 does require a fair amount of power, but that is still less than its competitor. Innovium’s power efficient chip enables customers to design a compact 32 x 800G (25.6 Tb/sec) switch in 1RU form factor. Both Broadcom and Innovium are building these chips as monolithic die and have not made the move to chiplet or 2.5D designs. Internal interconnect speeds are still critical for the highest performance and lowest latency.
As mentioned earlier, there are three variants of the TERALYNX 8. The two fastest versions have 170 MB of on-chip memory buffer capacity, which is over 30% larger than the Broadcom chip. The larger cache supports greater network congestion without dropping packets. In general, the larger memory makes for a more robust network and is often required for interfacing to data center interconnect (DCI) networks.
The other advantage of the new Innovium’s TERALYNX 8 compared to preceding chips is the ability to build a 256 port non-blocking switch which might take up to six chips to do the job in the past. With 25.6 Tb/sec of bandwidth and enough ports, it can do that with a single chip.
The Innovium TERALYNX 8 will be sampling later this year. With continued advancements by both Broadcom and Innovium, the bandwidth race between the two companies is not over. The result is come interesting competition in the network switching market – which is healthy for the data center market.